By Alex Kingsbury
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
April 4, 2001
A line of hundreds of bleary-eyed, yawning college students waited outside My Brother’s Place restaurant on Capitol Hill on Tuesday as part of a lobby day organized by the music swapping organization Napster.
“We didn’t have to wait too long,” said George Washington University freshman Kristina Pentek. “We had to come out here to support (Napster). It really gets voices heard.”
Nearly 500 supporters of Napster passed through the restaurant, receiving information packets, shirts and other Napster paraphernalia before heading to the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Digital Music and to lobby their senators to support the popular music community.
“I am a proud Napster user,” said Richard Balzarianni, a Virginia native who brought his two children to the event. “I think that it is good for the kids to see legislation in action. I hope that they see that you need to stand up for the issues that you support.”
Napster experienced a series of legal setbacks in its recent battles with numerous record companies. In early February, the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled against the company saying that it must prohibit the sharing of copyrighted songs. The legal challenges continue, however, as the boundaries of copyright legislation governing the Internet are examined and evaluated.
Around 100 of the Napster supporters, mostly students, were allowed into the committee room.
Inside, interim Napster CEO Hank Barry testified that online music sharing should be regulated just like commercial radio stations. Banks suggested that the services like Napster would pay a flat fee for the cumulative distribution rights of the material.
“Licensed music should now be available over the Internet as it is over the radio,” Barry said. “I strongly believe such a change is necessary, an important step for the Internet and that it will be good for artists, listeners and businesses.”
Barry said that congressional intervention was necessary to resolve the legal issues.
“The question before us today is what does it take to make music on the Internet a fair and profitable business,” Barry said. “I believe it will take an Act of Congress — a change to the laws to provide a compulsory license for the transmission of music over the Internet.”
The Recording Industry Association of America also had witnesses testify before the Senate hearing.
“Napster was exciting. But giving away someone else’s music without their permission is yesterday’s news,” RIAA officials said in testimony. “The story now is the music industry’s efforts to alert fans and consumers to the huge amounts of legitimately licensed music that is currently available online.”
The halls of the Dirksen Senate office building was crowded with Napster supporters as they waited for a chance to enter the viewing gallery of the hearing room before courting their respective senators. Singers Alanis Morissette and Don Henley were in attendance for the hearing and testified that their rights as musicians were being violated.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the committee’s chair, said that the world was entering a “new age” but that that age was “slow in the making.” Hatch was resistant to the on-line licensing proposal citing the status of international treaties.
The fate of Napster remains uncertain as users and supporters of the service continue the fight for its preservation.